Washington, DC - In 2010, President Barack Obama declared January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the hopes of bringing an end to this inexcusable act of abuse that is a modern-day form of slavery.
Victims of human trafficking are not specific to sex, age, race or nationality. Many are recruited for their services through force, fraud or coercion. Those targeted by traffickers are often perceived as vulnerable. Undocumented migrants, runaways and at-risk youth, and oppressed or marginalized groups are among the high-risk population of human trafficking victims.
To the public, victims of human trafficking, which is exploitation based, often go unnoticed as they are voiceless and scared because, in a blink of an eye, they are without the control of their possessions, money and have found themselves in an unfamiliar culture without identification documents and are afraid for their safety and the lives of their families.
For U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes it investigates. As a result, ICE is serious about taking the necessary steps to end the crime.
In 2014 alone, ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) initiated 987 human trafficking investigations and recorded 1,770 arrests, 1,028 indictments, 828 convictions associated to human trafficking and identified 440 victims.
Part of the process of ending human trafficking is education and awareness of the issue. In addition to the month of January being set aside, specifically, Sunday, Jan. 11 marked the observance of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
"Through awareness, the dangers of human trafficking have been brought to light more," said HSI Baltimore Special Agent Vaughn Harper. "Potential victims and the general public understand (human trafficking) more and are able to spot the signs."
According to Harper, the signs of someone who may potentially be a victim of human trafficking include a person who doesn't have any personal identification or travel documents, or seems to be coached, rehearsed or can't speak for themselves. While the process for fighting human trafficking is a tough battle, those who are being exploited can make the fight taxing.
"Many don't identify themselves as victims and don't realize they've been taken advantage of and exploited because of psychological trauma and the fact that they have developed relationships with those exploiting them," Harper said. "It can be a challenge when victims have to recount their experiences to investigators and ultimately in court in front of the people who were exploiting them."
In its commitment to end human trafficking, ICE relies on tips from the public to dismantle these organizations. ICE encourages you to keep your eyes and ears open to suspicious activity.
"Here at ICE and HSI, we are robust in our efforts to combat human trafficking, because it's one of our priorities," Harper said. "As the old adage goes ‘if you see something, say something.'"